The Belfast Colonial Theater announces a pause in operations from September 18

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The Colonial Theater announces a pause in operations effective September 18 as the search for and transition to new owners continues. From September 19, 2022 until new owners take over, the theater will not be hosting live events or movies.

A few years ago, the Colonial Theater began seeking the next generation of owner-operators to continue a 110-year legacy of movies, live events, and thriving at the center of a vibrant community.

As the pandemic has rocked the theater and threatened the very existence of the theater, we have survived and carried on with tenacious leadership and plenty of support from our community and our state and federal programs. While we were closed for 15 months from March 2020 to June 2021, we have reopened thanks to great community support. Then came Delta and Omicron. And we’ve weathered those storms by staying open through it all.

Throughout the fall, winter and spring, we maintained a varied program of films and live events with comedy, literary, artistic, social and environmental issues, music, speakers and events. Finally, we emerged from the pandemic with record attendance at live events such as the Hot Suppers group and films such as Maverick: Top Gun, Minions, Elvis, etc. People line up and return to the Colonial Theater.

Our plan was originally to find the new owner-operator and then retire. But time has passed and we still want to retire, so instead of selling and then retiring, we’re going to retire and then find our next operator owners. Over the past few years we have had interested parties and they still are. Our hope is that they will find the renewed energy to take over.

In 1995, Therese Bagnardi and Mike Hurley took over from the Kurson family, owners of the Colonial Theater for decades. John Grant and the Grant family had run the theater for over 50 years and the Grants were also ready to pass the baton to the next generation.

With energy and panache we took over and the Colonial Theater was restored and revitalized from top to bottom, updated and modernized, we restored the original stage and created Dreamland with its balcony and proscenium in the first home for iconic films like Titanic, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Save Private Ryan. New seats have arrived! Celebrating our centenary, we have moved from 35MM to digital projection and made many other changes. We saved our elephant Hawthorne and put her on the roof! It was very fun. Today, the Colonial Theatre, like Belfast, is about to change. The Colonial Theater baton is ready to be passed on to the next generation.

The past 27 years have been made possible by a dedicated staff who love their jobs and the millions of people we have welcomed into the theatre. It was wonderful and an honor to work with all of them. There were far too many to mention personally, but two should be noted. Last year we re-opened with a first-ever Director of Operations bringing in Belfast native Kyle Walton, who had grown up in the movies as a customer, popcorn kid, and more. No one else could have succeeded like Kyle in bringing a new level of management to the Colonial Theater. In 1995 we inherited Jon Tibbets when we took over the theatre, he is our facilities master and an unparalleled treasure. Our staff, each and every one of them, made viewers comfortable and safe with professional demeanor and commitment to the exhibit.

One thing we learned early on: not everyone goes to the movies. About 50% of all people never go there. About 30% go to two or three films a year. The rest goes all the time. We have been so blessed with our viewers. From little kids to older folks, rambunctious kids, first dates, girls’ nights, guys’ nights (for different movies), serious movie buffs, dedicated art movie lovers, people of all ages that have always presented themselves in a blizzard. And they all have one thing in common. They came ready to suspend disbelief, to be told a story, and they came to the right place. Yes; they will have to abstain from films on our big screens for a while, but not for long. We loved caring for and presenting films for our clients.

Then there are the movies. Thérèse and Mike grew up in the cinema and have always loved going to the cinema even if their tastes have broadened with age. Movies are the greatest storytelling medium ever invented. All television, all the complicated world of small screens, is just a by-product by-product. Human beings have always gathered together and asked “tell us a story”. Perhaps it was a great battle, a love lost or found, a persecution, a triumph, a tragedy, a sorrow, a friendship, a endurance, honor, redemption. Movies still give it to us every day. For us who love reading and the art of storytelling; keeping the Colonial Theater and organizing films for 27 years has been a joy and an honor.

The Colonial Theater has been at the heart of Belfast for 110 years. It will continue to be in the future. We know there will be a next act soon and we are excited to see the new vision. Belfast is a vibrant and thriving city on the move, and Belfast can count on the Colonial Theater to be part of its future.

What future for the Colonial Theater? We are planning a 10 day free film series to celebrate our 27+ years of hosting Belfast, our region and everyone near and far in our theatre, we still have an event or two to produce. From September 9 to September 18e watch out for a huge schedule of free movies. After that we will straighten and clean and prepare the place for the next generation. After 27 years, we can’t wait to pass the baton to the next generation of goalkeepers. Thanks for sharing all the memories.

IMF: Michael Hurley [email protected]; 207-323-0881

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